Today marks my 24th day here in Ponta Grossa, Brazil and honestly it has blown away all my expectations.
To start this journal off lets go to the beginning. For all those who are reading these journals of past and present exchange students and have somewhat of an interest of going on exchange, just apply you will not regret it because this exchange year will really change your life for the better.
No one really tells you about how hard it is to leave your family and friends at the airport. For me personally, it was probably the hardest part of my exchange so far. Everything began to sink in at that very moment, which all of this was real and my new life was about to begin. Tears were shed like waterfalls running down our faces. Then your parents actually say goodbye and leave and you walk into the line for security and you truly know this is happening. Okay, so starting at the security line at the airport, I basically got pulled over to the side because I had some candy in my bag and they did not tell me until they were going through my bag. I was honestly so nervous because my friends were looking at me in front of the security line and I was giving them thumbs ups saying I was all good. Oh, I forgot to mention, my good friend gave me some good advice, when you are going through the airports and you get lost, need help, etc use the, " I am an Exchange Student Card." For me, nothing really big happened after that moment. I called my best friend in Chicago and she gave me some advice and then I was boarding plane after plane until I got to my city.
I flew from Jacksonville to Atlanta and it was a short 45-minute flight and the guy I sat next to was pretty cool guy on that flight and as soon as I knew it, I was in Atlanta. Going from the Domestic to International terminal and I asked just to make sure I was heading in the right direction because most people do not know this but the airport in Atlanta is the largest in the world. I made it to my gate and that is when I heard everyone speaking Portuguese and I tried to understand, but I could only get the big ideas of conversations. Another things is that you may think you know your host language pretty well before you go, but when you get there you will see that you know nothing, but that is part of the experience so do not worry. Back to the story, I had an over night flight from Atlanta to São Paulo and it was about 10 hours and for me that is nothing because I use to live in Japan and I have taken many 14+ hour flights. However, I slept for almost the entire flight. When I woke up, I was flying over Brazil and soon after I was in São Paulo airport. I grabbed my luggage, re-checked my bags and went to my terminal and waited 5 hours for my flight into Curitiba. As I was waiting, met a Rotarian and she was so sweet and made sure everything went smoothly. Then after the quick 1-hour flight I was almost to my new home. My host mom and dad greeted me at the airport and I instantly loved them. We packed the luggage in the car and drove 2 hours to Ponta Grossa, the most beautiful city ever.
Ponta Grossa is such a eye opening city. Most of my state is covered with, what they call here in Brazil, Campo Gerais and for people coming from Florida; it is the complete opposite of the landscape there. Rolling hills and Araucaria trees everywhere. Those trees are only found in the South part of Brazil and they are so beautiful. Actually from my bedroom window I have an amazing view of the Campo Gerais.
Moving on, my host family has been amazing. My host mom and dad work and my host brother swims. Meu irmãozinho is so awesome. His days are so busy however. He goes to school the trains for swimming Tuesday through Saturday and has english classes every Monday but he is always asking me to hangout with him and his friends. My host mother is the same, she works quite a lot although; it does not seem like it because I see her all the time. My family here eats lunch together everyday at around 12:30 everyday. I love it so much.
For warning, in Brazil they eat a lot more than 3 times a day. For breakfast they usually have tapioca with meat and cheese or a grilled sandwich with meat and cheese with coffee or tea. Also, lunch is the biggest meal here. In my family we have beans and rice, get used to eating that every lunch here in Brazil, some form of meat and salad, then some form of fruit for a quite dessert. Juice here is to die for as well. It is made fresh and so good. Dinner is usually left overs from lunch unless you are having Churrasco, by the way Churrasco is so delicious you do not even know.
So, my time here so far has been amazing. Especially inbound orientation. It was at a hotel in the city of Guaratuba, which is right on the beach. It was an incredible time where I heard various different languages, laughter, and of course music. At the orientation we played games, learned about the trips offered, went to the beach, and just had a good time. I made friends from all over the world and to me that is one of the best parts of exchange, meeting people from various countries and making life long friends. Sadly the orientation came to an end and I had to return to Ponta Grossa. After orientation, I went back to my life here in Ponta Grossa. My host family has a personal trainer and we go to him every Monday and Wednesday and it is a family activity and is super important to my family for all of us to bond and enjoy our time together. Also, every Tuesday and Thursday I am taking a dance class for dances that is popular here in the south of Brazil. It is a class for various G aúcho dances, one being Xote. Here in the South of Brazil there is a very prominent Gaúcho culture. Gaúchos comes from the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil's most southern state. It is a completely different life style than the rest of Brazil. They even have a drink called Chimarrão, which is a tea that is only found in the south of Brazil. It is quite good, it does however, have a bitter taste but I especially love the chimarrão that my host aunt makes.
So September 7th is Brazilian Independence Day and since Curitiba is my state capital we had a "desfile" of parade and my district gets the opportunity to walk in the parade with the other exchange students, Rotarians, and Interact clubs. Again I had to take a bus to Curitiba from Ponta Grossa, this time at a later date. I left for Curitiba on Wednesday September 6th at around 5 pm and I arrived at 8 pm with a Rotarian waiting for me. You will also learn that Rotary is a family and they will help you out with anything even finding you a place to stay the night in the city. That is exactly what happened with me. The Rotary family found me a nice Rotarian's house to stay in and host me; actually, I stayed at my Districts Governor's house. Anyways back to the story, so they picked me up at the bus station and took me to there house where we had dinner and watched some tv, then went to sleep. I woke up and had some breakfast and then I headed to the parade that was to begin at 8 am. We got there and met all the other exchange students and Rotarians and waited to start walking. It took about another hour before we actually started walking but the time went by so quickly. There were so many people watching the parade, thousands I think. Everyone was cheering, you can hear so many people’s conversations in Portuguese. We walked for about an hour and then it ended and we walked back to the car to head back to the house for some lunch then back to explore the city a little more. I am so thankful for them, they showed me all the amazing stops to see in one day in Curitiba. We went to Torre Panoramica, Opera de Amare, Universidade de Livre, and especially Jardim Botanico which is a symbol of Curitiba. The city was just jaw dropping. It is so green and urban. I fell in love instantly; I hope I get the chance to see more of it soon.
Next thing is, if you have not heard of the card game Truco, it is one of the most confusing games I have ever played. It truly has no logic at all. However, I am slowly learning more and more. I am actually beginning to understand how the game words and I have won a few rounds of the game. Oh, and futebol games here in Brazil are 1000 times better. My host dad and I go to our local team’s games every Sunday when they are playing here in Ponta Grossa. Everyone is cheering the team on. The team’s name is Operário, which means workers because Ponta Grossa use to be a huge railroad stop in Brazil and the workers would play on the very same land that the field is now on and that is how the team and club was born. They have a part in the crowd where you basically cheer chants the entire game and when I say that I mean the entire game. Everyone is jumping around, clapping, and there are even people who bring instruments to help keep the beat. It is a huge thing here in Ponta Grossa.
Moving back to language. I am so glad I studied a little bit because it has helped me so much. I arrived in Brazil and I could actually understand somethings. Each day I understand and learn more and more Portuguese. I can hold up decent conversations now in Portuguese and I have only been here for 3 weeks. If people speak slowly I can understand a lot. I was talking to my host grandpa and he was telling me how if you want to learn a language, you have to want to learn. Never give up even when you do not understand.
Finally, to end this novel of a first journal entry, here is some words of advice that I have learned so far while I have been in Brazil. 1. Never be afraid to say that you do not understand. 2. It is okay to say no at times, but take any opportunity they you find interesting. 3. Never be scared to ask for thing that you want to do. 4. Rotary and every Rotex will always tell you, study your host language as much as you can and this is 100% true, you will not regret it I am not kidding and 5. Make sure before you leave for exchange you buy your countries flag.
I want to give a huge shout out to Rotary International, The Rotary club of St. John's, and RYE Florida for giving me this amazing opportunity. I am loving every moment here and I could not have asked for a better country. Brazil has taken my heart.
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